Shul­man’s selfie: a “rev­o­lu­tion­ary act”

The Week Middle East - - News -

It was a “stand­out mo­ment for In­sta­gram, the plat­form dom­i­nated by av­o­ca­dos and wil­lowy young women per­form­ing post-salad hand­stands,” said Lucy Siegle in The Ob­server. Alexan­dra Shul­man, who re­cently stepped down as edi­tor of Vogue, last week posted a photo of her­self in a bikini on hol­i­day in Greece, ca­su­ally cap­tioned: “Time for the boat trip.” A “so­cial me­dia melt­down” re­sulted, as peo­ple around the world praised her “brave” and “em­pow­er­ing” ac­tion. Yes, it seems that “an un­doc­tored pic­ture of a 59-year-old” in an or­di­nary Bo­den bikini is an “act of rev­o­lu­tion”. Why ex­actly did it cause such a stir, asked Ali­son Rowat in The Her­ald (Glas­gow). Be­cause Shul­man “looked like an or­di­nary woman. She had lumps. Bumps. Wob­bly bits. Veins. Most gob­s­mack­ing of all, she seemed en­tirely cool about it.” The re­ac­tion “tells us some­thing about the First World’s ob­ses­sion with body im­age, and the gen­eral in­vis­i­bil­ity of mid­dleaged women”. Shul­man is cer­tainly “a very brave woman”, said Amanda Platell in the Daily Mail. But she would have been braver if she had used pho­tos like this one during her 25 years as edi­tor of Vogue – “the same Vogue which en­cour­aged its fe­male read­ers to con­form to a cer­tain glam­orous stereo­type: im­pos­si­bly thin, tanned, and devoid of all wob­bly bits”. Per­haps, hav­ing ped­dled wildly un­re­al­is­tic body images for so long, her selfie was “some form of penance” – an apol­ogy to the count­less or­di­nary women that she has bom­barded with pho­tos of “re­morse­less phys­i­cal per­fec­tion”. “In fair­ness to Shul­man, she did push the bound­aries during her time at Vogue,” said Gaby Hinsliff in The Guardian. On var­i­ous oc­ca­sions she took de­sign­ers to task for us­ing ridicu­lously thin mod­els. But the fact is that, in her in­dus­try, any de­vi­a­tion “from a rigidly po­liced ideal of beauty – young, skinny, white” is con­sid­ered un­ac­cept­ably “com­mer­cially risky”. In fact, her own hol­i­day snap makes the point quite clearly. “Put a nor­mal woman in a bikini and it’s ob­vi­ous how lit­tle of the magic is down to the clothes.” Some biki­nis “are pret­tier than oth­ers”, but “there’s only so much a few tri­an­gles of cloth can achieve”.

Shul­man: “un­doc­tored”

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